A season of Premier League football wouldn’t be the roller-coaster of emotions we all love to hate without the weekly injection of fan overreactions.
When the bottom team secures an unexpected win we announce ‘the great escape’ and if a top team drops three points we suggest a crisis is on the horizon. Without this, would we have anything to even talk about?
There couldn’t have been a better example of this than in the aftermath of Liverpool failing to win at Goodison Park. It signalled Liverpool’s fourth draw in their last six league games and more significantly, finally left them behind Manchester City in the league table having played the same amount of games.
The predictable accusations of Liverpool bottling a league title, choking in the crucial moments, and ‘slipping’ down the table as they did in 2014 followed accordingly. This was all following points at Old Trafford and Goodison Park which, without the exceptional circumstances of Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking side, would be considered good results.
Comparisons to the last time Liverpool got close to a title and faltered seems unfair. Five years on from when you could argue that they ‘bottled it’, this Liverpool team is in a completely different place.
Squad depth is vital in a title race, and even more important when a team is looking forward to create sustained success across a number of seasons. Some players are always likely to leave, fall out of form, or lose their legs to age, so to be able to respond and replace without needing to attack the transfer market is necessary.
2014’s title challenge was largely dependent on the first eleven. A low on confidence Victor Moses, an ageing Kolo Toure, and a disappointing Iago Aspas filled gaps throughout the year but the current Liverpool substitutes represent true quality that can sustain the this team’s standards.
Recent criticism over Klopp’s lack of inspired substitutions against Manchester United and Liverpool are great examples of the football fan’s short memory.
In the derby reverse fixtures Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi were both brought on to score winning goals respectively. Effective back ups making big impacts in the big games.
Having these players at their disposal will not just help Liverpool in the immediate future, but if roles need filling more permanently over the coming months and years, you’d like to the think they could do it.
Was there anyone in 2014 who looked likely to convincingly take the baton from Suarez and Sterling? Probably not.
The bench isn’t the only place this current Liverpool side look full of better quality and potential. A quick glance at the younger players in and around the first team represents a different level.
Although Raheem Sterling must be mentioned, maybe Liverpool’s greatest youth product of recent times, Jon Flanagan, now of Rangers, Andre Wisdom, a current back-up defender for Derby, and Jordan Ibe, who is not inspiring Bournemouth fans, all provide examples of youngsters whose promise dwindled.
Fast forward five years and there has been an exciting emergence from Trent Alexander Arnold and Joe Gomez, and an astute acquisition of Naby Keita, a player with undisputed quality who has his best years ahead of him.
The English youngsters are already first team regulars and Keita’s price tag shows how highly rated he is across Europe. It is hard to argue that these players will not grow and strengthen this Liverpool team further in the coming seasons.
Virgil van Dijk. There is no shame that Liverpool struggled to replace the character and defensive awareness of Jamie Carragher and the leadership of Steven Gerrard, but can they get much closer in the modern game than they have with the Dutch giant?
His impact on this Liverpool team has been nothing short of phenomenal and has completely transformed their defensive record, and arguably given them the license to play with less attacking impetus all of the time this year. The defence has improved as a whole. Alexander Arnold, Gomez, Lovren, Robertson, and of course Allison, are all having great seasons.
In the 13/14 season Liverpool conceded an incredible 50 goals in the league, unheard of and unprecedented for title challengers, let alone winners. To put this into context, they’ve only conceded 15 goals so far this season. 2014’s backline was never going to be sustainable beyond that crazy one-off season. The defence has made the team now look mature, experienced and ready to go again.
2013/14’s defensive record was brushed under the carpet by the magic of Luis Suarez. Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Philipe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard all played pivotal roles but none of them could quite reach the staggering figures of the Uruguayan.
31 goals and 12 assists suggests that a player has never been so influential on a title chasing team in recent memory. His inevitable move to Spain was always going to leave a gaping hole that would take time to fill. It would be easy to compare the 2014 front three to the current forward line of Salah, Mane and Firmino, but not even the Egyptian striker had the impact of Suarez.
He has 17 goals to his name heading into the final nine games of the season. Liverpool’s current talisman is far from easy to replace, but it would be fair to say that Liverpool have won games and survived periods when he hasn’t been at it this year. Could the Liverpool of 13/14 have managed so well if Luis Suarez had struggled for a few weeks?
The point here is simple. It is hard to see which of Liverpool or Manchester City will go on to claim the Premier League crown in the coming weeks. But if it is the team in blue, the exceptional side that are making a case to be the greatest ever, there is no shame on the Reds.
Because this isn’t anything like 2014. Liverpool aren’t bottling a one-off chance to secure the title they have craved for so long, this is the beginning of a sustained new era. 2018/19 champions or not, they’ll be back, fighting again next year, enjoying the roller-coaster ride of fan emotion and overreaction once more.